Apprenticeships quango reveals extra £40 per learner charge

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will start charging £40 for every apprenticeship external quality assurance check it does from September.

Robert Nitsch, the quangos chief operating officer, told the Association of Employment and Learning Provider’s conference this afternoon that charging for their work, which is currently free, is the “right thing to do”.

In the same session, Ofqual’s director for vocational and technical qualifications Phil Beach, confirmed his organisation would continue not charging for the service and called for an extension of its duties in this space.

There are currently 18 approved external quality assurance (EQA) bodies that monitor end-point assessment organisations, to ensure the process is “fair, consistent and robust”.

The EQA bodies are allowed to apply a charge as long as it is on a “cost-recovery basis” – the amount of which is taken directly from the government funding given to training providers to deliver the apprenticeship.

FE Week revealed the “ridiculous variability” in these charges in February, which were criticised by sector leaders for ranging from a free service to £179 per apprentice.

The IfA recently re-tendered for an organisation to conduct EQA on its behalf, which was once again won by Open Awards.

Tender documents for the new contract, seen by FE Week, stated that “legislation allows the institute to charge end point assessment organisations (EPAOs) a fee per apprentice that undertakes an end-point assessment and it is these fees that will pay for the EQA service”.

They added: “The institute’s budget is limited and we are seeking to work with a supplier who will deliver a high-quality service at a price that offers strong value for money.”

The IfA is currently the EQA provider for over 200 apprenticeship standards.

Addressing delegates today, Nitsch said: “The institute has been introducing a charging mechanism for end-point quality assurance where the institute has been nominated as the EQA provider.

“We currently aim and expect that charging will commence for EPAs from the 1 September this year at the agreed rate of £40 per EQA.”

AELP chief executive Mark Dawe challenged Nitsch on this decision, and insisted it seemed “unfair” especially where an apprentice has already started their training.

Nitsch replied: “There is a real challenge when you start charging – what time do you turn it on remembering that some standards take some time to deliver? But we think it’s the right thing to do is to move into this paradigm.

“I will also say that we always said we were going to charge, it’s not a new phenomenon, it has always been there. but it has taken us more time to get to this stage because we needed to assure ourselves the data accuracy was there.”

Beach used his speech to call for Ofqual to have bigger role in EQA.

The exams regulator is currently the external quality assurance provider for over 65 approved apprenticeship standards. Many in the FE sector have called for Ofqual to be the only EQA provider.

When he came off stage Dawe asked: “Are you charging £40 for EQA from September?”

Beach said: “Ofqual does not charge for EQA. If we needed to we would take that from our current budget and we would go back to the DfE to secure additional funding extra.”

Dawe added: “So if you extended your role and became all EQA provider from 1 September we wouldn’t have to pay this fee?” to which Beach simply replied: “No.”